It is a clear and breezy Lahore evening, the year is 2005. The setting sun adds a dreamy hue to the majestic flood lit green turf at the Gaddafi stadium. I keep rising off my seat to see if the Indian openers are about to emerge from the pavilion. Anticipation fills the air. It has been 16 years since I last watched him play live. In that time, I have grown up and his performances have made my life immeasurably richer. My sister keeps teasing me, “Will you stand up when he walks in?” She, like millions of other Pakistani girls and aunties, has devoted more than a decade of prayers to his early dismissal each time he plays against us. Before I can answer her, someone screams, “Here they come!” And out walk the two Indian openers. They are both great but Lahore’s eyes are following one with a special love. He walks over the ropes and turns his head to the heavens in that characteristic fashion and jogs a little like an enthusiastic 16 year old. I stand up to applaud and so does everyone around me, including my sister. It is impossible not to. We aren’t acknowledging a century. We are acknowledging supreme skill and devotion to one’s art. No one is sitting down. Sachin Tendulkar walks to the crease, with his modest yet assured manner and Lahore breathes in his presence every precious second.
And then the show begins. The world’s fastest bowler hurls down deliveries at fierce pace and is humbled by the skill of a master craftsman. A clip off his legs comes first, followed by a searing drive with the ball racing along the turf, whispering intimate details about his talents to the ground.
Sachin reminds all of us of who his fiercest competitor is; it is Sachin himself. Every time he goes out, he strives to and in fact betters what he achieved before. This is a man who played 55 days in a row as a 15 year old and fell asleep on the dining table — only to wake up the next morning at the crack of dawn with renewed hunger. He represents what all of us strive to achieve in our line of work; a standard by which everyone in the field is judged.
I write today out of sheer love and awe for his talent. I disagree vehemently with those who say he is not a match-winner — that argument confuses many issues. If people do not think of Sachin as a “finisher” then of course he is no Michael Bevan — there was only one like Bevan and his skill was limited to one day games. But Sachin has won a huge amount of enormously important matches for India. His breathtaking match-winning knocks have come against Australia (Sharjah), Pakistan (Centurion), England (Chennai) among others.
His phenomenal grit has also meant that he has often scored runs when his team crumbled. People comparing his hundreds and wins for India often forget that players like Lara, Inzi and Ponting were on teams with phenomenal bowling attacks. Sachin decimated all of them at one point or another. He has never been any bowler’s “bunny” like Lara became to McGrath or Ponting to the in-dipper early in his innings. The very fact that Sachin has racked up mountains of runs, many times in a losing cause, is a tribute to his genius and determination as a player. The fact that he has played so many Tests and ODIs speaks of nothing else but what Harsha Bhogle calls his passion to perform.
His fitness and form have lasted longer than other great batsmen. His captaincy was not the most memorable stint but that is no measure of greatness, for if that is your measure then Sir Garfield Sobers did not have a captaincy record worthy of writing home about either.
Greatness is one thing and genius is quite another. Sachin has raised the bar for both. It is not just what he has achieved but how he has achieved it that boggles the mind and lifts the spirit. He has managed to remain disarmingly humble, stay away from controversy and has retained the passion of a 16 year old. To make it to the Indian cricket team has got to be the most difficult job in India. The acceptance rate for a place on the side is frighteningly low. To build a career spanning 2 decades and to be the focus of the hopes of a country of over a billion people — the sheer pressure of it — would weigh most people down. But all cricket fans thank God that Sachin defies expectations in the spell-binding way that he does.
In 1989, when he first toured Pakistan, the great spinner Qadir taunted him to take a chance on his bowling. Qadir was at his peak. The 16 year old from Mumbai looked at him quietly and walked to his crease. In the next over, he hit Qadir for 4 sixes. Years later, the world’s greatest leg-spinner, Warne, would confess to having nightmares in which Sachin was smashing him all over the park.
His talent, along with his humility, and service to the game cannot be celebrated enough. Sir Don Bradman once compared Sachin to himself. The world took it as a huge compliment — and it was. Today, it would be a compliment to Sir Bradman himself if we think of him on the same level as Sachin Tendulkar. Thank God that the young Sachin picked up a bat and fell in love with it. I have loved reading every sentence of the script that he has written.
Regardless of how often we Pakistanis prayed for his early dismissal against us, God often did not answer that prayer. And I am grateful for that. We are all richer, along with our love of the game, thanks to this humble cricketing genius. I have a feeling that God himself has loved watching Sachin bat.
The writer is a Barrister and an Advocate of the High Courts. He is currently pursuing his LL.M in the US. He can be reached at [email protected] or on Twitter @wordoflaw